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Committed to the First Amendment 7/15/2001 08:00:00 PM Eastern

You've got CNN

There could not have been more of an exclamation point on the AOL Time Warnering of Turner than last week's announcement that Walter Isaacson is taking over the reins of the news network from Tom Johnson. That leaves the team of Isaacson, former managing editor and editorial director of Time, and Jamie Kellner atop the house that Ted built.

There was a definite feel of a torch being passed, so this is as good a time as any to marvel at what Ted Turner and company did. CNN fought a tide of red ink and conventional wisdom and even early assaults from deep-pocketed competition—remember SNC?—to build that most coveted of all media creations, a worldwide brand. And one that distinguished itself with its journalism here and abroad, while simultaneously whetting and feeding the appetite for news. It was instant news gratification that came along just when the instant-gratification generation had matured enough to want to make news a part of its wish list.

We are not waxing sentimental over the old guard in anticipation of a deficit in the new. Both got a little singed by that torch during the Tailwind troubles. (With Isaacson at the helm, Time
printed the story at the same time CNN aired it.) But it doesn't take a Harvard-educated Rhodes scholar to see that the team of Isaacson and Kellner combines a top-flight journalist with an A-list, innovative programmer. They've got the torch. Let's see where they run with it.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your coverage

NBC is off to a fast start with its NASCAR coverage, picking up where Fox left off and lapping the field in both households and 18-49s, according to the appropriately named fast-national figures from Nielsen. In fact, it was the highest-ever ratings for the sport. Now, before we start sending the network out to do donuts in the infield, the XFL was also supposed to draw a new audience to Saturday nights for NBC. It also staked its claim to early ratings victories, followed by more defeats than the Jamaican bobsled team.

One thing that made us want to wave a yellow caution flag was the deluge of teasing references by the race-coverage team to "plenty of wild action" viewers could expect. Now, perhaps they were referring to the blocking and passing and strategy that aficionados can separate from what to others looks like a lot of cars going round and round more or less in a big bunch and then occasionally stopping. But it almost sounded like a teaser for a possible pileup. If so: bad idea.

What seems like a good idea, though, is programming to an America between the coasts and latching on to a sport that hasn't been free-agented to death or oversaturated to within an inch of its broadcast life.

We don't know where NBC will end up in the ratings race with NASCAR, but it is off to a good start.

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